“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” -Mark Twain

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Unexpected Day 7: Making the Best of It

During the two-hour delay on the Tarmac, I watched out my window as maintenance workers brought over crates of landing gear brake drums, remove the tires, and hoist the drums onto a lift and attempt to install the new brakes. That was two hours and one brake. They hadn't gotten to the other side yet. The airline handed out granola bars and water and started a movie, but by seeing a small army of people and crew on the Tarmac, I saw a bus show up just as it was announced that the flight was cancelled until the next afternoon. Anyone who had a place to stay in Rio should do so, and the rest of the nearly 300 passengers would be transported by bus to a hotel and given dinner and breakfast.

American handed us these transit ticket cards that will help us through re-booking and passport control, and we took a bus to a gorgeous hotel west of Ipanema in the Barra de Tejuca district (I may have spelled this incorrectly). It was a long half hour drive but it had the space for everyone. The dining room was open when we arrived at 2:30am and we had a hot buffet meal. AA was quick and efficient in getting us situated and also kind. Luckily as I mentioned earlier I had checked no luggage, so all my clothes were with me, including plenty of clean stuff (one time I'm glad I over-packed, even with just a carry-on). It was also my first time in a hotel in a week. Now I love a nice hotel, but not for $450 a night with my own cash which is one of the reasons I opted for the B&B, as well as the personal service. But I did appreciated a hotel. Huge shower, no mosquitoes, CNN, air conditioning, and fluffy towels. I took a marvelous long hot shower before bed and felt like a new person.

A wake-up call came at 8:20am that check out was at 9 and the bus to the airport would arrive at 10. I got a head start, packed and checked out, and went for breakfast. I sat in the lobby afterward when the first bus arrived at 9:35 and I caught that one. It was nice to be first, seeing as last night I got the very last hotel and meal voucher. The ride back to the airport was through suburbs, favelas, car dealerships, high-rises, and mostly residential neighborhoods. There was an amusement park, carnival, new gondolas that transport people up into the favelas quickly (a new project Rio is working on), and low clouds clinging to green mountains.

Standing in line to check in at the airport again I was talking to an older male couple from Provincetown who built a summer home in northern Brazil. I let them use my phone to contact relatives that were supposed to pick them up in Boston. Two men in business class behind us were bitching about the entire process and how slow it was. Dudes, it could be worse. Sorry you weren't accommodated within 10 minutes and you had to stand in line with the rif-raf. I will miss my connection to Chicago tonight, but will spend the night in New York with dad and Mary, so this all works out well. I could be much worse, at least I have all my things, transportation, and a home to sleep in tonight. When I get into New York I will then make my onward arrangements for Chicago. They already have me on one flight but I want to try to improve the situation a bit better to build in some breathing room in case of further issues.

It will be nice to be state-side again. And to do laundry. I miss my electric toothbrush.

However, I do have an addendum to my report about Rio's airport. The airline had also given is a lunch voucher valid at one of the vendors. Once I ventured down a couple levels of the airport, I found a more extensive food court and one more less-crowded souvenir shop. This was outside of security, so be sure to leave plenty of time to dine first and then get through the lines. And if you need a charging station in the international boarding area, there is one immediately behind passport control. You could completely miss it if you head straight to your gate without looking behind he pillars. I was the only person using an 8-port station. Gate 38 also has an outlet near the ground facing the windows, with seating nearby. The little power outlets in that airport are devils to find since a lot of them have been removed for some odd reason. But bring an European adapter, since some ports are 220v round. And I write all this assuming someone will read the blog that is looking for Rio travel advice. I know this blog sees visitors from around the world, so welcome!

Upon arrival in New York, when we stepped off the plane, American had an envelope for each passenger lined up on a windowsill. I found mine, and inside was my new boarding pass for my connection tomorrow, a hotel voucher, and breakfast voucher. Wow! I thought I was going to have to wait in line for 45 minutes to rebook, and they already had it done before I landed! I cleared customs and passport control in minutes, where were all fully-staffed and ready for us. I was off the plane and at passenger pickup within 20 minutes. My biggest props to AA for the way they handled this entire situation. Too often we hear of nightmare airline stories, and this one was a gem. I'll write them when I get home, and I took some time to thank the crew tonight, as well. They really did a stellar job.

Dad and Mary were at dinner with friends, so dad left to pick me up and we returned to the restaurant to have a nightcap together. One drink turned into two, and we were having so much fun socializing, and me relaxing, that I stepped outside the bar to call the airline. They let me change my flight from 7:45 the next morning to 1pm instead. Thank god. It's now 3am and instead of going to bed in yet another hotel, I'm in my day's house in a familiar and cozy place. I'll sleep in a little then we'll have bagels for breakfast, and off I go to Chicago. It was nice to make a stop here instead of routing through Miami or DFW. It was like having my own welcoming committee, and so nice to come home stateside to family and friends to talk to. I love going home, but there's no one to greet me at the airport or at home. There won't be in Chicago tomorrow, but at least my welcome home was a day early in New York. My first and second home.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Day 6: Boa Viagem... and the Plane Breaks Down

Last day in Rio. Or so I believe. I am on the plane right now sitting on the Tarmac for an hour because there's an issue with the brakes. No idea when it will be fixed. Will we lift off tonight? Will we spend the night here? I care not to think about it. So in the meantime I queued up Les Mis on my iPad for the 5th and final time. Yeah, it took me five times to get through it. I still don't get it. I can't get past Russell Crowe singing. It's distracting and he's not very good. I can't handle all the singing. It bores me stiff, and watching it is like walking knee-high through mud. Why all the British accents? It's a movie about France. I saw the play once, I forgot what it was about. Some people love the movie. If you're one of those people, please help me understand why. I mean no offense, it's just not for me. I have Argo and Zero Dark Thirty left on the iPad to watch. That's more my speed.

So this morning after breakfast I finished packing up and left my bags in the foyer for the day. I didn't have to be at the airport until 7. This time I headed the other direction on the metro, north, into Centro which is the downtown business district. There is a collection of colonial-era buildings so some photography and exploration was in order. I was warned that Centro has some rough spots and not to sport my camera, so I scaled back my adventure just a bit.

After a tasty lunch of yakisoba at a sidewalk cafe (I believe the first one I stopped at for kibe on my first day) I went first to the Teatro Municipal which I discovered had a guided tour starting in less than a half hour. I inquired about a tour in English, but the ticket agent didn't speak English and pointed something about "one". One what? At one o'clock? Today? Or yesterday? Or only one guide? Whatever, I figured I'd wing it and follow everyone else at for the 2pm tour even if it was in Portuguese. I can still catch a few words and I just wanted to get inside for pictures. But the guide asked if anyone spoke English, a few of us raised our hands, and the separated us and gave us an English-speaking guide. Nice.

It was a beautiful building, modeled after the Paris Opera House. It recently underwent a renovation and it glistens in gold and red in the interior, with marvelous stained-glass windows representing the Muses of music, poetry, and dance. The lower level is based on Persian design, to my surprise, as I haven't seen this motif in many western buildings. For only $5 it was a good way to spend an hour on a rainy day. Afterward I walked across to the National Library that had a stunning multi-level interior, but my motivation for more exploration was starting to wane. I walked around downtown a bit more, stumbled upon the US consulate, but as the rain came down harder, it was time to head back to the B&B.

My driver was waiting for me when I returned. I learned a few days ago that his motto is that if he's not early, then he is late. So he is always early. By at least and hour this time! Washing my face and hands was a priority, then changing clothes for the plane, packing away my day bag, some re-arranging, then we were on our way to the airport 20 minutes ahead of schedule. We passed the Sambadromo again and I managed a couple pictures through the rain-dotted car window. Then past the national soccer stadium amidst some rather congested traffic. It took us nearly 80 minutes to go a few miles so I'm very glad we were both early so I could arrive at the airport on time. Through a spattering of Portuguese and Spanish, my driver Hector and I exchanged names, talked about our jobs, some of the neighborhoods we passed through, and other chit-chat.

Rico's international airport terminal is by no means my favorite in the world. For its sake I really hope it's under construction, as there were only 2 very slow snack bar with not enough tables, one souvenir shop, one duty free shop, one restroom (no kidding, and my bags didn't fit in the stall with me so I had to pick and end stall and leave them outside my door, gah!), not enough seating for everyone, no official airline desks, not staffed, and not enough trash bins, so trays from the snack bar were everywhere. They removed most of the wall outlets so there was only one charging station that was kept busy as we piled on top of each other. One dude with a southern accent plugged in his iPhone then walked away to the snack bar. Someone should teach him a lesson and moved it. He also assumed everyone spoke English. We then boarded a bus which took us to our plane (typical for international airports), but it was raining and we had to climb wet shaky steps with our bags. I felt badly for the elderly passengers that didn't have a ramp or other means to get onto the plane.

And that brings us to now, 2 hours sitting on the Tarmac while I see one of our landing gear tires on the ground. The new brakes have arrived in wooden crates, so now I know what airplane brakes look like. Lots of staff and technicians I spy out my window. It's going to be a least another hour delay, and we'll get into New York by 10am if we're lucky. At least dad doesn't have to get up at the ass crack of dawn to pick me up. Bright sides: I have enough Xanax to put me out so I'll have no idea how much time passes; I didn't check luggage if we get moved around; I have an 11 hour (now 8 hour) layover in New York until my Chicago flight, so plenty of time; and if I miss that, flights between Chicago and New York are every hour on the hour, if not from JFK, then from LGA, which dad can drive me to. And I still have Sunday to get home if I get stranded here or in New York. Allison had keys to my place so she or Dennis can check on Jude, or the pet sitter. An my visa is multi-entry for 10 years so if I'm here another night, perhaps passport control won't be a big deal. I've slept in plenty of airports and I have a pillow, and plenty of clean knickers. So it could be worse. I tend to pack for the worst-case scenario.

Update: Can't fix plane tonight. Sent us to gorgeous hotel on the beach. Hot shower, no mosquitoes, buffet dinner at 2:30am, great staff, and all the bonuses I mentioned above turns out I actually need. Flight scheduled for 1pm, in JFK at 9pm. Will miss 5pm flight to Chicago so I don't yet know how or when I'll get home, or how frequent Internet access will be. Texting is expensive. My sister can post my updates or FB IM her for details. Got a hold of pet sitter and she's checking on Jude another day. At least I have another day to work with! Now can squeeze in an hour at the beach before the bus comes to bring us back to the airport? More details to come, but AA has been efficient and fantastic.

Day 7 post to come... Stay tuned.